This summer, at Linwood Park, where I am one of the Camp Pastors from time to time, the theme is “the Kingdom of God.” In July, that theme is going to be at the center of the sermon series, as one of the pastors preaches from the Book of Acts. For the next three weeks, I am going to introduce the theme of the Kingdom of God from the Old Testament, hoping we will all gain a better understanding of the Christian notion of the Kingdom of God and our place within that kingdom.
In a way, the whole idea of a “Kingdom” is contrary the way we Americans think. We live in a democracy. We do not have kings. In the United States we have Presidents, Senators, Congress men and women, and judges, but no king. In fact, our Constitution forbids the giving of anyone any kind of title to nobility.  The founders of our nation did not want to create a new kingdom but something new in world history: a Constitutional Democracy.
This creates a real problem for Americans, because it would seem that God in some way is busy creating a kingdom on earth, a kingdom of peace, and he intends for there to be a king, a special kind of king, to rule over this earth in wisdom and love. If we cannot get that first notion into our minds, we will not really understand what the Bible is trying to teach us about the Kingdom of God.
The phrase “Kingdom of God” is used over 70 times in the New Testament – with the Gospel of Matthew alone uses the term about 30 times. As Christians, it is essential to understand the meaning behind this phrase which is often confusing for many Christians and non-Christians. Therefore, it might be good as we begin to give a short, easy to remember definition of the “Kingdom of God”: The Kingdom of God is that place and contains those people where God is in control, working his wise and loving purposes for the good of all human beings.
The Beginning of the Kingdom
Now, let’s dig a bit deeper. If you want to understand something, the first place to begin is at the beginning, which for our purposes is the creation of the world. In the opening chapters of the Bible, in Genesis 1-2 we see the world as God designed it to be. Hear the Word of God as it comes to us from the book of Genesis:
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day (Genesis 1:1-5).
As Genesis tells the story, God goes on to create the heavens, our world, and all the living creatures in the world.
The Bible begins with God creating a kingdom—the universe, our world, and everything in it. God is the author, the designer, the creator, and the lord of our universe and our world. In order to manage this world, God needed a creature who is something like God—endowed with intelligence, consciousness, and the ability to manage his creation. Therefore, as God completes his creation, the human race is created.
Human Race as Stewards of the Kingdom
Then, finally, on the sixth day God creates the human race. Here is what the Bible goes on to say:
Then God said, “Let us make the human race in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day (Genesis 1:26-31).
This brings us to the first point that we need to understand if we are to understand the kingdom of God and what it means for our lives. Our human capacities have a purpose and a goal. We are intended to be stewards of God’s good creation. This is true of everyone. Men and women. Old and young. Boys and girls. Rich and poor. Smart and less intelligent. Gifted and less gifted. Powerful and less powerful. All of us were intended to have a role in managing God’s kingdom and tending his creation.
Our position as members of the human race and stewards of God’s creation has implications for our behavior. As stewards, we have the responsibility to manage the creation, as the Bible puts it, “have dominion over it.” A good steward manages the master’s property, and that means working hard at it. However, a steward is not given the master’s property to waste it or consume it, or ruin it, but to improve it and manage it wisely.
Our first church was in a small, rural farming community in the third poorest county in Tennessee. I have always been glad we began in Brownsville. Brownville was a farming community and there I learned to garden. I had to keep the yard for the manse that had drifted into disrepair and needed landscaping. The farmers helped me learn to landscape and plant a garden (and keep from killing all the plants). Frankly, it was a spiritual experience. I thought of Adam and Eve and our human destiny to be caregivers for creation every time I stepped out of my back door and went into the church building.
The lessons of my garden in Brownsville continue to bless my life today. When I think of ministry, I think of gardening. Now that I am retired and write a bit, I think of writing as gardening. (It is just as hard to get “weeds” out of a manuscript as it is a physical garden.) You and I are not simply “inhabitants” of God’s creation. We are its gardeners. God wants us to take whatever part of his garden we are blessed to be a part of and improve it. Our garden consists of the people and places God brings into our lives.
Discipleship as Stewardship
The physical part of caring for God’s creation is important. However, the spiritual and human part of caring for God’s creation is more important. We are all called to be stewards of the people and relationships God has placed in our path, our parents, our spouses, our children, families, co-workers, friends and neighbors. In fact, caring for people is the most important part of our stewardship.
Jesus told many parables, and a good many of them deal with the subject of being good stewards of what God places with us. Here is just one. In Luke 19:11-27, Jesus tells a story about a nobleman who went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom intending to eventually return to his country. Unfortunately for this nobleman, the citizens of this country hated him and told the high king that they did not want him to be king (v. 14). Before leaving, the nobleman called in his servants and gave each on some money to invest for him while he was away. Then he left to go and receive his kingdom.
When the nobleman returned, having received the promised kingdom, he called in the servants so that he might know how they had done with his money. The first came before him, saying, ‘Lord, your mina has made ten minas more.’ And he said to him, ‘Well done, good servant! Because you have been faithful in a very little, you shall have authority over ten cities.’ A second came, saying, ‘Lord, your mina has made five minas.’ And he said to him, ‘And you are to be over five cities.’ Finally, a third servant comes and admits that he did not invest the money, but kept it hidden, because he was afraid of his master. The king was furious, and took from the man what he had been given. (Luke 19:21-26).
This is one of those texts that Christian rarely hear preached on except on stewardship Sundays. Interestingly, this parable is not about money at all. It’s about taking care of the people and relationships that God brings into our lives. Here’s the background. This parable occurs in Luke near the end of Jesus’s ministry, just before he enters the city of Jerusalem where he will be crucified and die. He is about to go home to God until the end of time. As Jesus is teaching, he is surrounded by Pharisees and Sadducees, scribes and leaders of the people. They oppose him and want to see that he is put to death. They all reject him.
In the parable, Jesus is the noble king. He is the one who has gone off into a far country to receive a kingdom, which he will get at the end of time when he returns as the Lord of the heavens and the earth. In the meantime, the people of God and the creation of God have been left in the hands of human leaders. This particular parable, it’s not likely the Jesus meant the Sadducees, Pharisees, and other leaders of the Jewish people. In the parable, the leaders of the people, and indeed all the citizens of the little country, reject the leadership of the nobleman (Jesus) who is going away. No, the servants are not the leaders of the people. It is almost certain that, in this particular parable, Jesus meant the discipleswhom he will be leaving in charge of his kingdom in his absence. In other words, in this particular parable, Jesus is talking to you and me and about our stewardship of the Great Commandment and Great Commission until the end of time.
Discipleship as Investing our Gifts
This parable is a reminder that we all have been given some kind of ability to use for the building up of the kingdom of God. Not everyone has been given the same abilities. We have different abilities. Paul makes this clear in First Corinthians when he talks about spiritual gifts. He says, “Now, there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (I Cor. 12:4-7).
Paul does not say, “To the first apostles were given spiritual gifts.” He does not say, “To preachers were given spiritual gifts.” He does not say, “To Sunday School teachers were given spiritual gifts.” He does not say, “To those who speak in tongues were given spiritual gifts.” He does not say, “To elders and deacons and other leaders of the church were given spiritual gifts.” He says, “To each was given a manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (v. 7). This means all of us. Just as we are all made in the image of God, we are all stewards of God’s creation. And, just as we all are disciples of Christ, citizens of his kingdom, we are all gifted with talents and abilities and assets to be used for the glory of God and for the perfection of this kingdom.
As I was writing this, I came across an article in the Harvard Business Review on the importance of leaders taking stock at least weekly of their progress, their goals, their successes and failures. What the writer was encouraging is as old as any kind of religion. In the Christian tradition, people like St. Ignatius Loyola have encouraged disciples to take time daily to examine themselves, to see where God has been at work in their lives and where they have failed to do the work God intended for them. In some Christian groups, people are encouraged to take time annually to reflect upon their lives in ministry.
Most of us go on vacation each summer to relax and enjoy ourselves for a while before we go back to our day-to-day lives. This relaxation is important. Just after God gives Adam and Eve dominion over the world and all that is in it, he institutes the Sabbath, so that they may learn to rest. We need time away to rest. While we are here resting and relaxing and recharging our batteries, we need also to reflect on our stewardship of the talents, gifts, and abilities God has entrusted to us. For, in our hearts, we know we are accountable for them.
Copyright 2022, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved
 US Constitution, Article 1, Section Nine, Paragraph 8 (1789). Article 1, Section Nine, Paragraph 8 reads: “No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.”